Why legacy brand Lilly Pulitzer is tripling its influencer marketing budget

As a brand that saw peak popularity in the 60s and ’80s, Lilly Pulitzer is pushing for modernization, and it’s betting big on TikTok and Instagram influencers to diversify its media mix and reach more shoppers.

This year, the 60-year-old brand launched its most ambitious influencer marketing effort to date, tripling its influencer marketing budget as part of its push for brand rejuvenation, said Michelle Kelly, CEO of Lilly Pulitzer.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact of influencers in terms of shaping brand perception, word of mouth and getting the word out,” Kelly said. “It’s truly one of the most effective ways to get the word out at this point.”

Like a slew of other advertisers, including wellness brand Liquid I.V. and startup pet health company Fuzzy, Lilly Pulitzer is pushing to become less reliant on performance marketing tactics to make space, in terms of spend and effort, for experimental marketing and brand awareness channels like influencer marketing, Kelly added. For Lilly Pulitzer, those efforts are in partnership with digital agency PMG.

In a new paid partnership campaign and strategy shift to diversify its media mix, the clothing brand has tapped major TikTok influencers like Natalie Marshall, who goes by @corporatenatalie on social media and has more than 500,000 TikTok followers, Taryn Dudley, who has more than 20,000 TikTok followers, and Taryn Delanie, better known as Miss New York, who has more than one million followers on TikTok, among others. 

“We wanted to go big with influencers of course because we realized the power that influencers have to build brand relevance, change perception, promote key styles and things like that, and their ability to do it quickly,” said Lindsey Lehmann, head of influencer and branded content at PMG.

Last year, Lilly Pulitzer’s clothing business spent $10.5 million on media, according to Vivvix, a Kantar Company, including paid social data from Pathmatics. That figure is up from the $7 million the company spent in 2021. 

Influencer marketing isn’t a new strategy for the clothing brand, per Kelly. But in the past, Lilly Pulitzer’s influencer marketing strategy was more grass roots, relegated to partnering with people who were already familiar with the brand. This year, those efforts are triple what the brand has ever done in a single year for influencer marketing, she added. (The brand did not respond to a request for specific figures in time for publication.)

“We actually just wanted to go a bit broader and have more people involved to get the word out faster and at a bigger scale,” Kelly said. “We were putting the word out, but weren’t shouting. We were whispering the word before.”

Across the board, influencer marketing has gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have line item in media budgets, especially when it comes to younger shoppers, according to agency executives. In fact, Digiday+ Research found that the percentage of brands who invest in influencer marketing jumped from 62% at the beginning of 2022 to 73% in the first quarter of 2023.

And new data reported by Business Insider revealed that young people are influenced more by TikTok than word of mouth. Looking to get in on that trend, close to 75% of U.S. marketers were expected to leverage influencers for campaigns in 2022, up from about 70% in 2021, per Insider Intelligence. Insider Intelligence also reported that those influencer-brand partnerships were predicted to cost $4.14 billion in 2022, compared with the nearly $240 billion expected to go toward digital marketing overall.

Even as economic uncertainty and a potential TikTok ban loom above the marketing industry, Gabe Gordon, co-founder of social shop Reach Agency, said influencer marketing is an important piece of the marketing pie.

“Who knows if the TikTok ban is going to happen and how it’ll impact it,” he said, adding that marketers should keep their current plans in place for now. “Until then, there’s great other avenues, especially for a forward-fashion brand like [Lilly Pulitzer], on Instagram and Instagram Reels, both a great area to focus your marketing spend,” he added.

That’s the plan for Lilly Pulitzer, according to Kelly, who emphasized the importance of a marketing strategy that includes performance marketing strategies in addition to brand awareness strategies like influencer marketing. 

“I’m hoping to not swing back all into performance marketing just because it’s safe and measurable,” she said. “I hope that we’re able to keep the more full funnel and balanced marketing mix top of mind no matter what the economy throws at us.”

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